Come to the orchestraPlay
Do you ever get moved by music? Like, really moved?
Last month, the Los Angeles Philharmonic attendees were surprised when they heard what was later described as a "full-body orgasm" from the balcony. The "moan" erupted during a performance of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, and a recording of the moment later made its way onto Twitter.
But was it really an orgasm? Endless Thread co-host Amory Sivertson explores the story in Part One of this episode.
In Part Two, co-host Ben Brock Johnson digs into a popular post on r/AskReddit: What is the smallest crime you can commit? The answer may be overstimulating.
- A ‘full body orgasm’ at the L.A. Phil? Witnesses offer conflicting accounts (Los Angeles Times)
- In Texas, even possession of a sex toy is regulated (Houston Chronicle)
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This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text.
Ben Brock Johnson: Hey, folks. Heads up. This episode deals with some adult themes. Which means if you're my parents, Amory's parents, or parents listening with their kids right now, maybe apply earmuffs. Or pick another one of our fun and family-friendly episodes. OK, here's the show.
Amory Sivertson: Yes.
Ben: Are you ready? Are you ready?
Amory: I'm ready.
Ben: We've gone into R-rated territory before. So it's fine. It's going to be fine.
Amory: Do you want to go first with a story?
Ben: What would you—?
Amory: Let's see. Does yours end in a climax?
Ben: I was going to say there's so many jokes. Do you want to go first? Something about something. Something go at the same time. You know, there's a lot of jokes to be made that we won't make. Sorry. Go ahead. Why don't you go first?
Amory: So you know when you're at a party, or you're in some other loud environment, and there's music playing, and you're talking to someone. Maybe you're doing a little gossiping, or you're sharing a secret. Maybe you're telling an embarrassing story. And then, all of a sudden, the music stops. Whatever you were just saying seems like it's now amplified.
Ben: The worst. It's the worst.
Amory: So this is how a Silverlake, California, resident and music agent Lucas Barton described something that happened recently during a performance of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony at the L.A. Philharmonic. He'd said this to the L.A. Times. He said, "'One can't know exactly what happened, but it seemed very clear from the sound that it was an expression of pure physical joy. There was a sort of gasp in the audience,' Barton said. 'But I think everyone felt that was a rather lovely expression of somebody who was so transported by the music that it had some kind of effect on them physically, or dare I say, even sexually.'"
[Unverified audio recording of the performance]
Amory: And that sound was quickly characterized on Twitter this way. Jocelyn Silver, who's a writer and editor for various outlets, said, "friends who went to the L.A. philharmonic last night are reporting that in the middle of the show some lady had a SCREAMING orgasm, to the point where the whole orchestra stopped playing. some people really know how to live..."
Ben: I feel like with so many things, as soon as this thing gets put on the internet, it immediately gets both pornified and also maybe turned into misinformation.
Amory: Yeah, well, as I'm reading the tweets, I'm also seeing some pushback in the Twitter comments. You know, some people are saying I was there. This happened. Other people are saying I was there. This didn't happen. Or it didn't happen the way that other people are describing it to have happened. One of the first things I did was reach out to the L.A. Philharmonic. I called, I emailed, I wanted verification that the recording was actually from that performance, which was on Friday, April 28th. They've been contacted, and they haven't refuted that it was the moment. So, for now, that is believed to have been the moment from the actual performance. I wanted response from people in the orchestra of, you know, what was the experience like from the stage? Did it seem like what these people on Twitter are describing? Did it seem like the woman was experiencing a real moment of pleasure? Or, as other people were commenting on Twitter and to the L.A. Times — which, as I mentioned, covered this — did this look like something else? Maybe. So another thing that I wanted to do immediately was to find out, is this even possible? Is it possible that music can bring on a full-body orgasm? Maybe not even a full body? Are all orgasms full? Who knows?
Ben: Yeah, the full body thing is like, I don't really—.
Ben: It's very dramatic.
Amory: Yes, it's very dramatic. So one thing that I found was this was a piece in the Daily Mail from 2015 that cites research from — one of the researchers' names is Psyche Loui. I don't know if I'm pronouncing that correctly. She was at Wesleyan at the time. She's at Northeastern now. So I'm like, Professor Loui, would you explain? I never heard back from Professor Loui, but I did read some of her research here. This was a piece in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. And this piece talks about — I'm sure you have listened to a piece of music and gotten, you know, goose bumps or, you know, the shiver down the whole body?
Ben: Of course.
Amory: I would not describe that as an orgasm. But, you know, some people refer to that as a skin orgasm or that it has this.
Ben: Skingasm, if you will.
Amory: A skin orgasm. The term that they use is frisson. I'm not sure how to pronounce that. They say that that might be the most accurate term, but when we think about a skin orgasm or frisson, this journal says the term implies a pleasurable sensation that is "paradoxically both universal and variable. It affects different parts of the body depending on the person and circumstances of induction, and retains similar sensory, evaluative, and affective biological and psychological components to sexual orgasm."
Ben: It's my understanding that orgasms for men and women are, you know, maybe a mix of physical and mental, but they can be, like, very mental. And so I would posit that anything can give anyone an orgasm depending on their own particular je ne sais quoi. I don't know if that's true, but I'm putting it out there.
Amory: Yeah, well, and this researcher Psyche Loui, she said that Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 really does this for her.
Ben: Wow. OK. Yeah.
Amory: And she said.
Ben: Yeah, Rachmaninoff rocks her world. Is that what you're saying?
Amory: That's right. It Rachmaninoffs her world. She said, "The aesthetic experience can be so intense that you can't do anything else." And that really resonates, that when you have an experience where, like, you can't do anything else, you can't think about anything else, it does kind of take hold of the senses.
Ben: Full body, as it were.
Amory: That's good. However, we don't know what this was. And so I started reaching out to some of these other Twitter commenters who said, Hey, I was there. This is not what happened. And, Ben, are you familiar with the term "deep background"?
Ben: Yes, I am.
Amory: OK. Can you explain what it is for the listeners since that's not an everyday term?
Ben: Well, like, when you're doing important journalism as we are today, there's a couple of different options for how someone can talk to you in a way that sort of, like, protects them. And "on background" means someone can tell me something, and I can refer to it in my reporting, but I can't attribute it to them. So I can say, "An unnamed source told me X." That's "on background." So "deep background" is some form of that.
Amory: Yeah, it's similar. Deep background is I'm asking you, the listener, to trust me right now that I reached out to a source that has legit connections to this story. And because their connections are legit, if this information were traced back to them, it could cause some harm, they believe, in some way. And so I will not be telling you—
Ben: It was this second oboist. You wouldn't be telling us that it was the—
Amory: I will not tell you if it was the second or the third, or the fourth chair. None of that. No. So this person was in the audience, and they also have tangential connections to the orchestra itself, to the L.A. Philharmonic. And what they have told me is that they were really upset to see this orgasm rumor spreading online. Because what they say is, "I do not know who the woman is. I can definitely say it was not anything sexual, contrary to what the L.A. Times very irresponsibly rushed out to say. There were no signs of it being sexual, and no one I spoke to after the concert even mentioned that being a possibility." And this person went backstage after the show. "It sincerely never crossed my mind. And nothing I saw (even having read the L.A. Times article) points to it being an orgasm. Her face was rather pale and not flushed, she didn't have the multiple muscle contractions come with an orgasm but rather she went immediately slack after the scream/groan collapsing to her right side; she didn't have jaded and intense breathing, but actually had to be promoted to breathe by the man next to her; the man next to her was not smiling as has been reported but was worried and immediately reacted to sustain her from falling and prompted her to take deep breaths; from her look and whole demeanour I thought she was someone with special needs (as in mental special needs) to be honest; she didn't seem very aware of her surroundings or the people around her. I've known people with mental health needs and her entire demeanour and behaviour was something that fitted right in with what I've done to expect." So this person believes to have been witnessing something totally different than what was reported. And again, we don't know what happened. We just know there's a rumor. There are other accounts. Obviously, sex is always going to win. It's always going to be actually sexier than whatever the real story is. Or maybe it is the real story. But yeah, we shouldn't jump to conclusions as tempting as that might be.
Ben: If you are listening to this right now and you were at the show, and you can tell us — because I know we have a number of L.A. listeners — what your thoughts are, we'd love to know. And if you have an experience that you would like to share with us—
Amory: Yeah. Have you ever had a full-body orgasm from music to music?
Ben: Yeah, we'd love to know because we're building a playlist and — no, seriously. What an interesting, fascinating story. It does remind me of the power of, like, full orchestra music. And it actually makes me want to go just for normal reasons to an orchestra performance. So get out there. Hit your summer pops. Hit up your local summer pops, folks.
Amory: Yeah. You'll feel something. Will it be a full-body orgasm? I don't know. But you can't come unless you come.
Ben: And on that note, we'll be right back.
Ben: OK, Amory, I got a story for you.
Ben: It is the second Not Safe For Work story that we're talking about today. So this was a response that was posted in the AskRedddit subreddit. The query was, "what is the smallest crime you can commit?" Which I just love that as a prompt because that's a person who's smoking what I'm rolling. You know what I mean? What's the smallest crime one can commit?
Amory: You could steal a grain of rice from the Whole Foods dry goods bin.
Ben: Speaking from experience here, apparently.
Amory: Sometimes when I'm feeling rebellious, I just help myself to a grain.
Ben: Well, it's funny that you say that as your first response because there were a lot of extremely popular responses to this thread, one of which was, "When I was in high school, there was a gas station that used to sell beer to anyone, but they'd charge ridiculous prices. Like $20 for a 12 pack of Bud light in the late 90s. On my way out, I always would steal a bag of ice from their freezer box, which was outside the building. I figured I'd more than paid for the ice with their upcharge, and if they saw me, they couldn't call the police because then they'd have to explain selling beer to a 16 year old." That's really interesting. That's a pretty good, you know, kind of like they're committing a crime. I'm committing a crime. We're all committing tiny crimes together.
Amory: Those are the criminals you really have to watch out for. The really clever ones.
Ben: It's true. Selling beer to a 16-year-old is probably not a small crime, but—
Amory: No, but the ice stealers.
Ben: Ice stealers. Yeah.
Amory: Clever. Yeah.
Ben: Yeah, it is. All right. Another one that I thought was very funny and could warrant its own Endless Thread episode: In Germany, crossing the street at an angle other than exactly 90 degrees — it is not directly a crime, but punishable with a fine of €5. Also, someone said, "I sometimes scan a chocolate croissant as a plain croissant at the self check out." That is a person after my own heart. Get that chocolate croissant. Do it. I love it. But for a long time, the most popular response to this thread, with 15,000 upvotes, was owning more than six dildos in the state of Texas. So this is apparently in section 43.23 of the Texas Penal Code.
Ben: I know. I know. Penal Code. Yes. It's hilarious. And it has been around since a law in Texas came into being in 1973. This is a law that is still on the books. So apparently, back in the '70s, Amory, there were a lot of legal cases around the country dealing with obscenity. So you might remember, this is the decade in which Larry Flynt, creator of Hustler magazine, was in court a lot in fighting anti-porn activists. This was just like a thing that was apparently in the ether in our court system in the 1970s. This idea of what's obscene, what's not obscene, what should be allowed, what should not be allowed. So there were obscenity cases that reached the Supreme Court that were in courts all over the place in states. So this law specifically takes aim at so-called obscene devices "designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs." Human is funny. I guess maybe because there's some things we don't want to think about when we think about artificial insemination, animals, and stuff like that. Another quote from this penal code: "a person who possesses six or more obscene devices or identical or similar obscene articles is presumed to possess them with intent to promote the same."
Amory: This is just a bunch of malarkey.
Ben: Someone actually was arrested for this, Amory, about 20 years ago. In the town of Burlington, Texas, in 2004. They were apparently throwing a passion party. So it's like one of those MLM kind of like, everybody come over, and I'll teach you how to enjoy sex more. And she was arrested because she said that sex toys could be used to improve sex. Isn't that kind of sad?
Amory: As opposed to improving what?
Ben: I don't know, man. I don't know. Like, it's very weird. She faced a year in jail and $4,000 in fines, but the judge dismissed the case. You know, you'll also be shocked to learn that somehow Senator Ted Cruz has gotten involved in this law. Supposedly, he filed the brief when he was solicitor general in Texas that compared owning sex toys to hiring a prostitute. Very Ted Cruz energy there. But really, this law, we should say, isn't heavily enforced. There have been precious few cases, as near as I can tell, where this penal code has been invoked. However, the interesting thing here is that it really lives on this law. This fact lives on. I found it in all sorts of places. And it's kind of this meme in popular culture.
Amory: And why six? Do we know?
Ben: I don't know, man. I don't know. I couldn't figure that out there.
Amory: It's not like there are no more holes. It just doesn't make sense. There's too much of so many things. There are too many billionaires. There's too much crappy clothing. There's too much factory-farmed — I mean, no factory-farmed meat is OK — but there's too much of so much stuff. God, pleasure, passion, enjoyment. There will never be too much of that. We are so backwards right now.
Ben: Well, it's interesting that you make this comment, Amory, because one of the interesting things about this fact is sort of how it gets invoked, and as it sort of lives on, as this meme, it pops up in all sorts of places. And one example is Colin Jost pointing it out on Saturday Night Live.
Ben: And what we noticed from the times this law is referenced is that it's often referenced to show the absurdity of regulation on sex toys in comparison to, for instance, in Texas firearms. So Texas will curtail you when it comes to owning sex toys, but you can have as many guns of as many kinds as you want in Texas.
Amory: And bullets are pretty phallic themselves. They're like—
Ben: Excellent point.
Amory: —miniature dildos.
Ben: Yeah. I don't even want to go as far as thinking about that any deeper than you've just made me think about it. So this person on Reddit writes this comment. This "reminds me of section 377 introduced by British in their former colonies. Section 377 criminalizes any sexual activity deemed unnatural. No specifics given. So things like sodomy, oral sex were considered as crimes. Repealing of section 377 in India in 2018 decriminalized homosexuality. It was a landmark change."
Ben: 2018. What this makes me think about is that our laws, even if they seem ridiculous and are not really enforced, they can be used for enforcing things — they can be leaned on by law enforcement to put you in jail for other reasons. Like, I think the things that are happening around the country when it comes to women's reproductive rights are connected to sex. Right? When it comes to the rights of LGBTQIA people around the country, they can be connected, I think, to laws like this by aggressive forms of policing of people's behavior and identities. And so, you know, something, something, write your senator. But that's what I came to think about at the end of this little adventure.
Amory: I hope this episode makes you feel something.
Ben: Something good.
Amory: Something that may be a little frustrating.
Amory: But all for making things feel even better.
Ben: Heck yeah. All right. Well, we'll see you next week.
Amory: Hide your seventh dildo.
Ben: Where you hide it is up to you.
This week's episode was full-body produced by co-hosts Benny Brock Johnson and Amory Sivertson — and Dean Russell. Sound design, which does not run afoul of the Texas Penal Code, from Emily Jankowski. Endless Thread is a show about the blurred lines between online communities and frisson. If you've got an unsolved mystery, an untold history, or a wild story from the internet that you want us to explore, hit us up. Email EndlessThread@WBUR.org.